I first tried dim sum at Golden Coast the Monday after reading their weekend ad. We were apologetically told that everything had sold out ("Very, very busy this weekend"), and we had a choice of about five items from the 37 on the menu.
I was disappointed, but not too surprised. I often hear from people inquiring about dim sum. With Lobster King closed and Asian Palace still not open in its new location, Nam King has been the only choice, and many people don't even know about it.
We ate tripe that day along with a delightful
eggplant stuffed with fried shrimp. My dining companion, who is Chinese and knows more than a thing or two about the cuisine, didn't want the chicken feet any more than I did -- really, they're just skin and bones, and I think duck feet are even less desirable. The tripe was tasty, full of ginger, onion and garlic -- but here I go, making dim sum sound like leftover parts, and that's just wrong. Let's back up, because I'm going to write about jellyfish, and you need to be invested before that.
Dim sum started as a snack, but has become a feast. It's poetically translated as "touch the heart," and while that's meant to convey that it's only a taste, those of us who love the convivial dinner table know it means more. It is truly a shared meal, made up of many small dishes. Reaching, commenting, even feeding a loved one a bite from your chopsticks is fine in such an informal meal. Share your dumplings, your sticky rice, your rice rolls and your turnip cakes. The dishes range from about $2 to $4, so load up the table, and have fun.
Let's dig in. There are a variety of steamed dumplings -- shrimp, pork, seafood and chives -- that are similar, so just pick the ingredient you prefer. All of these are good dim sum entry foods, so start like this if you're hesitant. Chicken in sticky rice is also a safe bet, and Golden Coast is the first place I've eaten the sticky rice with chicken instead of Chinese sausage.
A handful of short-grain rice (which is what makes it sticky) is wrapped around a filling of seasoned chicken and then wrapped in a large lotus leaf. It's steamed, and you unwrap it to eat at the table.
I like to mix soy sauce, white vinegar and hot chili oil as a dipping sauce for just about everything I eat at dim sum. It's the traditional Chinese way, my friend told me, which surprised me because I first encountered the mixture in a Japanese restaurant. Live and learn. It's good with most everything, as I said, but critical for one of my favorite items, turnip cakes.
Shredded daikon (not turnip, I learned after looking up a recipe) is mixed with rice flour and Chinese sausage, cooked in a big piece, then sliced and sautéed just before serving. They're firm little patties with a touch of flavor from the sweet sausage and a slight but tasty bitterness. Dip them in the spicy sauce, and you'll love them. Two more items, then to the dinner menu (dim sum is traditionally eaten only during the day). Bean curd skin with pork is delicious, so don't shy away. A thin layer of crinkly tofu is wrapped around a pork filling and served with a light brown sauce. It looks like an egg roll and tastes like a dumpling. Go for it.
And don't miss the fried taro root puff, my favorite dim sum item since I first stood in line for dim sum at a San Francisco restaurant about 25 years ago (and went back nearly every day during that trip). The fried taro root puff is called a fried taro tart here, but it's the same. A savory pork filling is encased in layer of mashed taro (a tuber common in many parts of the world), then coated with an incredibly light, crunchy coating that looks something like fried Silly String and is textural heaven.
As I said, it's all cheap. Ask questions, try a lot, and enjoy. The S, M and L in the far left of the dim sum menu stand for small, medium and large, and the prices per dish are reflective: $2.30, $2.99, $4.30.
You can get all the Chinese-American standards at Golden Coast, but we didn't. We went with traditional Chinese dishes instead, and I fell hard for the first item on the noodle menu, the dry beef noodles. I don't usually care for rice noodles as they tend to get a little slippery. Well, getting them dry -- which I've just learned is the traditional way -- solves that. It's as if the wide noodles are cooked in a sauce and then left in a pan until all the liquid is gone, leaving behind only the flavor.
The crispy chicken was so-so. I expected a very crisp skin, something like Peking duck, and it didn't deliver. It was served with a sweet and savory dipping salt; a friend who has spent time in Hong Kong was at dinner and says this is common.
The minced chicken with lettuce leaves appetizer is undoubtedly the best version of the dish I've tasted. Chicken is finely minced and full of flavor and crunch -- it even tasted nutty, but we believe the crunch was water chestnuts and the nuttiness came from a good browning. Garlic and ginger were the predominant flavors, and I'd happily eat this for a meal, along with a refreshing and slightly spicy cucumber salad.
OK, there are many seafood offerings, and the jellyfish is among them. Well, you won't have to fight me for it. It was like eating gummy worms with no flavor, though I'll allow that the light vinegar and sesame dressing was tasty. Still, I don't even like the texture of Jell-O, so you're unlikely to find me slurping down ribbons of jellyfish.
An excellent special the night we dined was clams with asparagus. If it's offered, try it. The clams -- white and red -- were tender, not chewy, and coated in a light white sauce that let the flavor come through. The salt and pepper squid, while containing more salt than pepper, was also nice, lightly fried with not a rubbery bite in the plate.
-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223
Golden Coast Seafood Restaurant
Address: 1140 N. Germantown Pkwy.
Telephone: (901) 754-8836
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Dim sum until 3:30 p.m. daily.
Reviewer's choices: Beef rice noodles ($8.75); sea clams with asparagus ($18.95); minced chicken with lettuce leaves ($9.75); cold spicy cucumber ($4.99). Dim sum favorites include shrimp dumpling, crab siu mai, chicken in sticky rice, fried taro tart, turnip cakes.
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars